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Tinga de Pollo is served with plantains, rice and beans and a Blackberry Cassis Margarita.

Written by ELA LINDSAY | Photos by MICHAEL COONS

Like spring exploding into full bloom, the Cinco de Mayo celebration is a feast for the senses. Mexican culture comes alive in the upbeat tunes of mariachi bands and the colorful attire of people celebrating in festive parades and folk dances.

But the essence of the occasion can best be captured in the delightful tastes and smells that serve up Cinco de Mayo here in the U.S.

To discover some of the authentic dishes of the season, we asked the team at Los Agaves, a one-year-old restaurant at the Shoppes of Westlake Village, to prepare a Cinco de Mayo celebration meal.

“I like to share the spirit of my culture with our cuisine and the joy of family that I feel with our customers,” says Carlos Luna, who co-owns four Los Agaves restaurants with his brother, Christian. The other three are in the Santa Barbara area.
The Luna brothers have known Chef Ricardo Garcia since their childhood in Mexico. While growing up in Guadalajara, the youngsters dreamed about having a business. But a lot had to happen between then and now.

For one, after graduating college as a business major, Carlos moved to Santa Barbara, where he was born and where his mother was raised. Among other things, he learned the ropes of the restaurant business by working in management in several restaurants.

“You wear a lot of hats in the restaurant business and the knowledge learned helped pave the way to operating four successful restaurants today,” Carlos says.

Chef Ricardo says he discovered his passion for food as a child, watching the women in the family gather together to create meals while sharing stories and laughter. After graduating from the International Culinary School with an emphasis on Mexican cuisine, he developed his culinary skills at restaurants in Guadalajara and, later, in the states.

La Cocina
Los Agaves’ special menu changes often, but both Carlos and Chef Ricardo agreed

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The Luna siblings: Carlos, Montserrat and Christian. Chef Ricardo Garcia, who is married to Montserrat, has been a friend of the Lunas since their childhood in Guadalajara. Below right, Los Agaves guests can watch as the tortillas are made fresh daily in the open air kitchen.

 Sibling portrait courtesy of LOS AGAVES RESTAURANT

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Ceviche Verde is a refreshing cold seafood salad. Chef Ricardo serves it with plantain garnish. The Chile en Nogada, a stuffed pepper smothered in a creamy sauce, is garnished with pomegranate seeds, almonds and parsley, calling to mind the colors of the Mexican flag.

that chile en nogada was an ideal dish to capture the essence of the special occasion. “Chile en nogada was invented in the 1800s by nuns in Puebla to celebrate Mexico’s independence. It honored the colors of the Mexican flag,” Carlos explains. The dish, a stuffed pepper covered in a creamy sauce, is garnished with pomegranates, chopped almonds and parsley and, when plated, it calls to mind the hues of the Mexican flag.

Los Agaves prides itself on featuring authentic dishes with the freshest ingredients. That means freshly made chips and handmade tortillas. Diners can watch tortilla makers as they mold and work the masa.

“Women spend years learning the secrets of making the perfect tortilla and pass (the knowledge) down to (younger) generations,” says Carlos.

Los Agaves is a cozy spot where guests can enjoy the bold flavors and spices of its many signature dishes or the seasonal daily specials. An open-air kitchen allows diners a view of what it takes to create fine Mexican cuisine as they eat—or drink.
And the full bar features an impressive lineup of delicious margaritas. After all, they named the restaurant Los Agaves for a reason.

“The agave plant is very iconic of where I’m from in Mexico,” says Carlos. “The agave plant is also where tequila comes from. I love both very much.”

Menu

Click on the menu to the right
to show each complete recipe. 

Chile en Nogada

Serves 4 to 6

6 poblano peppers
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
½ cup canola or grapeseed oil
½ cup white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup olives, chopped
1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. orange zest
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup almonds, sliced
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup raisins
½ cup green apple, chopped
½ cup pear, chopped
½ cup peaches, chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. sliced almonds

Nogada Sauce
½ cup goat cheese
1 cup walnuts
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup cream cheese
2 cups whole milk
2 tsp. sugar
2 oz. Port wine
½ tsp. cinnamon

Prepare poblano pepper by charring and peeling skin. When cool enough to handle, make a small slit and remove seeds.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact.

Sauté the ground beef and pork in oil. Add onions, garlic and season with salt and sugar.

After about 15 minutes, add tomatoes, parsley, olives and spices and cook for 5 additional minutes.

Add orange zest, nuts, raisins and fruits.

Remove from heat.

Carefully stuff the mixture into the peppers through the slit. Transfer the stuffed poblanos to a serving platter.

To prepare sauce, blend all ingredients in a blender. Pour into saucepan and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Should be the consistency of a heavy cream.

Cover stuffed poblanos with nogada sauce and garnish with pomegranate seeds, parsley and almonds.

Tinga de Pollo

Serves 4 to 6

2 lb. chicken breast, bone in

1 white onion, ½ sliced, ½ minced

1 small bay leaf

1½ Tbsp. olive oil

¼ cup chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped*

½ cup dried chipotle pepper

1 lb. Roma tomatoes, chopped

4 cups tomato juice

3 garlic cloves, 2 smashed, 1 minced

½ tsp. dried oregano

½ tsp. ground black pepper

½ tsp. dried cumin

½ cup Knorr Suiza chicken boullion*

Boil chicken in large stock pot with enough water to cover. Add sliced onion, smashed garlic cloves and bay leaf.

Boil until cooked, approximately 30 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, shred chicken and put it in separate bowl.

Heat a large sauté pan on medium heat and add olive oil. When warm, add minced onion, minced garlic, chipotle pepper in adobo sauce and dried chipotle peppers and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes, until onions are translucent.

Add diced tomatoes, tomato juice, dried spices and chicken boullion. Boil 15 minutes.

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Return the sauce to the pan, add chicken and simmer over low heat so all the ingredients come together.

Serve with warm tortillas.

*These can be found in the Mexican food aisle of a supermarket.

Ceviche Verde

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. fresh fish (halibut or sea bass)
4 cups fresh lime juice
3 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Salsa
1 bunch fresh cilantro
6 basil leaves
4 jalapeno peppers
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Spanish (or yellow) onion, minced
1 cup fresh orange juice
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt

Cut fish into 1″ cubes. Allow to marinate in lime juice, vinegar, salt and pepper for six hours.

Blend salsa ingredients in blender or food processor.

After fish has marinated, remove from the lime juice mixture and place in a separate bowl.

Add salsa.

Garnish with seasonal fruit or veggies (1 cup, chopped). Suggested garnishes: green apples, fresh pineapple, cucumber, jicama, loquats.

Mix and serve.

Seafood Molcajete

Serves 4 to 6

Seafood*
1 lb. clams
1 lb. mussels
1 lb. scallops
1 lb. shrimp
1 lb. halibut
1 lb. salmon
1 lb. langostino
*Choose three or four of these.

Sauce
12 Roma tomatoes
4 cups tomato juice
3 green bell peppers
½ cup garlic cloves
1 tsp. black pepper
½ cup chicken base
½ yellow onion
½ cup chipotle pepper
1 tsp. cumin
6 cups water

Steam, grill or sear seafood separately, depending on which fish you choose.

In a large Dutch oven or sauce pan, combine all sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Purée cooked sauce in a blender.

Pour sauce into serving bowl and add cooked fish. Serve hot.

Blackberry Cassis Margarita

Serves 4 to 6

2 oz. tequila blanco (Sauza Blue)
1 oz. Edmond Briottet Creme de Cassis*
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. (dash) agave nectar**

Pour ingredients into cocktail shaker. Shake rigorously with ice. Strain into glass over new ice.

* Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur or Giffard Cassis Noir De Bourgogne Liqueur may be substituted.
**Très Agaves agave nectar is recommended, or use one that is mix ready (not thick).

La Granada Margarita

2 oz. 100% agave tequila blanco
1¼ oz. fresh squeezed, strained lime juice
1 oz. Pom syrup*

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake rigorously with ice. Strain into glass over new ice.

*Purchase Pom syrup or make your own using Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Heat juice on low and add sugar in a ratio of 1:1.25. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bottle and store in fridge up to two weeks.

Second Headline

other local hot spots for Cinco de Mayo fun

Cisco’s Mexican Restaurant
1712 E. Avenida de Los Arboles
Thousand Oaks
(805) 493-0533

925 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village
(805) 778-1191
www.ciscos.biz
Westlake: Block party May 5 and 6—beer and tequila gardens, music, giveaways, cigar rolling, fresh grilled tacos, beer pong.

Casa Escobar
2809 Agoura Road, Westlake Village
(805) 777-7747

22969 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu
(310) 456-1999
www.casaescobar.com
Food and drink specials; live music in Malibu.

Los Arroyos Mexican Restaurant The Promenade, Camarillo Premium Outlets 630 E. Ventura Blvd., Ste. 1217 Camarillo (805) 987-4000 www.losarroyos.net

Lupe’s Mexican Restaurant 1710 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Thousand Oaks (805) 495-3573 lupesmexicanrestaurant.menutoeat.com Expect a full house and authentic, traditional Mexican cuisine.

Money Pancho 3661 Las Posas Road, Ste.165, Camarillo (805) 484-0591 www.moneypancho.com

Sabor Cocina Mexicana
2200 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks
(805) 497-2457
saborcocinamexicana.com
Fiesta theme: ‘cantarito’ drink special, dish of the night created by chef, tequila shots, giveaways.

Sagebrush Cantina
23527 Calabasas Road, Calabasas
(818) 222-6062
sagebrushcantina.com
Lunch buffet, evening drink and food specials and live band 6 to 10 p.m.

Margaritas
702 Lindero Canyon Road, Ste. 704, Oak Park
(818) 879-7901
www.margaritasmexgrill.com
Happy hour, drink specials, draft beer specials and giveaways.